Sundaram Tagore Gallery is pleased to present new paintings by Jane Lee, the Singaporean artist whose lush, abstract works have garnered international acclaim. The exhibition has been curated by Tan Siuli, formerly Head of Collections and Senior Curator at the Singapore Art Museum. A three-channel video installation capturing the artist’s painting process will be on view alongside the artworks, marking the first time Lee has invited viewers to observe her practice.
Lee first came to critical attention when her monumental installation Raw Canvas was showcased at the Singapore Biennale in 2008. Her work was a highlight of Medium at Large at the Singapore Art Museum (2014–15), where her large-scale installation Status was acquired for the museum’s permanent collection. In 2015, Lee’s work was prominently featured in the global group exhibition Frontiers Reimagined at the 56th Venice Biennale.
Lee’s ongoing interest in examining the essence of a painting has yielded expansive bodies of work exploring the material possibilities of paint. For this exhibition, she focuses on the relationship between a painting and the space it occupies. “This new work explores the white space of the gallery as the ultimate ‘canvas,” she says.
The works presented are largely rendered in blue and white, a streamlined palette that puts the focus on Lee’s expressive, painterly marks. But on close examination, some of the paintings reveal tiny flecks of pink, red and green among the layers of impasto. There is also variation in size and surface treatment, with large- and medium-scale paintings alongside smaller works, some arranged into uniform rows.
Lee has always favored everyday household objects over traditional paint brushes to produce her characteristic textured surfaces. In earlier works she employed tools straight from the kitchen, treating paint like cream, generously slathering on layers as if frosting a cake. Here, she dispenses with tools altogether, opting to use her bare hands. Digging into densely applied layers of paint, Lee reveals chasms of color that are so deep the viewer must lean in to discover their hidden depths.
Alongside the paintings are site-specific installations created with the gallery space in mind. In Where Is Painting #6, for example, Lee punches through the heart of the wall-mounted work, leaving a crater-like void to expose the wall behind. A (nearly) freestanding sculpture, Painting Is — ALLVIEWS (2022), is a block-shaped form seductively smothered in thick, dripping paint. It is reminiscent of Lee’s 2013 Stack series, where small columns of paintings with only their edges exposed challenge conventional notions of how a painting should be viewed.
In a carefully curated arrangement, Lee’s paintings and site-specific installations flow into one another creating a playful dialogue that brings all the pieces together—presenting them not only as individual objects but as a cohesive whole greater than the sum of its parts.
ABOUT JANE LEE
Lee, who was formally trained in figurative painting before turning to abstraction, has long questioned conventional practices and perceptions of painting. She is less interested in depicting external phenomena than in revealing the internal world of paintings by examining the very nature of paint itself—its latent properties and potentials as both material and object, as well as its possible behaviors and characteristics.
Her early works, such as Beyond the Blue (2011), explored the way paintings are constructed, treating the components of a painting—stretcher, canvas and the paint itself—in unexpected ways. Lee’s innovative techniques and use of materials produce highly tactile and sensuous works that push the materiality of painting into the realm of sculpture, adding a third dimension to the typically flat genre.
Soon after, Lee began to investigate the material deconstruction of paint by subtracting from the surface rather than building on it, as demonstrated in her Portrait series (2013). She was inspired by concepts of Eastern philosophy, in particular Chinese painting, where empty spaces are often the focal point for creating the essence of what the work endeavors to represent.
These investigations eventually led her to examine the interplay between a painting and the wall surface. Walls are important to Lee—not just as a backdrop or barrier but as an activating space. Lee explored this idea in her 2016 series Wall Matters.
The work in this exhibition, in which Lee considers the total environment of a painting rather than restricting herself to the physical limitations of a single plane, is a natural extension in the arc of her practice. “For the past 20 years, my works have questioned what is painting?” Lee says. “With this show, I would like to invite viewers to explore together with me—where is painting?”
EXHIBITIONS AND HONORS
Since 2008, Lee has participated in museum and gallery exhibitions across the globe, including Dear Painter, 2015, curated by June Yap, former Guggenheim UBS MAP Curator, South and Southeast Asia, and in the same year, Prudential Singapore Eye, one of the largest surveys of Singaporean contemporary art.
Following a residency at the Singapore Tyler Print Institute, 2016, Lee debuted a solo exhibition there, Freely, Freely, using paper and also forayed into video for the first time. Her defining, mid-career presentation, Red States (2018), at the Hong Kong Arts Centre, included a retrospective selection of studies and maquettes tracing the chronology of her practice.
Lee has received numerous accolades, including the Celeste Prize for Painting in 2011 and inclusion in Vitamin P3: New Perspectives in Painting, Phaidon Press’s authoritative global survey of contemporary painting published in 2016. Lee received a B.A. with honors from LASALLE College of the Arts. She lives and works in Singapore.
A printed catalogue with essays by exhibition curator Tan Siuli and writer/visual artist Guo-Liang Tan accompanies the exhibition.